Veterans markers go missing at Great Neck cemetery

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Veterans markers go missing at Great Neck cemetery
Every year on the Saturday before Memorial Day, Great Neck's Boy Scouts place flags on the graves of veterans. Many of these markers, however, have gone missing. (Photo courtesy of Donald Panetta)

At Great Neck’s All Saints Cemetery, a burial ground off Middle Neck Road where more than 3,000 people rest, dozens of small markers once identified veterans whose service is not listed on their headstones.

Don Panetta, a Great Neck Boy Scout leader who works with the American Legion to honor veterans for Memorial Day, discovered they went missing.

Now the local American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Boy Scouts, as well as the fire companies, are looking for help identifying those veterans.

“All I’m really looking for is who the veterans are,” Panetta, who also serves on the Great Neck Memorial Day Parade Committee, said on Thursday. “I’m looking for where the bodies are buried.”

The four-inch circular marker sits atop a small stake at the grave of veterans, Panetta said, which allows the Scouts to find them and place American flags there on the Saturday before Memorial Day.

“Some of the graves are marked veteran,” Panetta said of the gravestones, “but not all of them are.”

Gabby Avila, a secretary for the cemetery, said that according to a groundskeeper who has worked on the site for 30 years, nothing like this has ever happened at All Saints Cemetery before.

The only reason a marker would ever be removed is if a veteran got a new headstone designating his or her status, she said.

“They haven’t been removed on our side,” Avila said. “They’re not in storage, they’re not discarded, and we have no reason to remove them.”

Asked if the cemetery had any records on veterans in the cemetery, Avila said names are tracked  – there are a minimum of 3,000 people buried, according to the cemetery’s database – but military service is not noted.

James Morehead, an adjutant for Charles A. Fowler American Legion Post 160 in Great Neck and member of the Great Neck Memorial Day Parade Committee, said the group is trying to find records but a formal inventory was never taken.

Consequently it is unclear how many veterans are buried in All Saints Cemetery, Morehead said, but there are some from both the world wars and even a general from the Civil War.

“It goes back a ways,” Morehead said.

Louise McCann, the commander of American Legion Post 160 and the head of the Great Neck Memorial Day Parade Committee, said it  is “incumbent upon every citizen” to remember what veterans both living and deceased have done and the sacrifice of “those who died in defense of the country.”

And while the Boy Scouts will place American flags on the gravestones of clearly identified veterans, whom she described as “the backbone of the country,” McCann said the recognition would be incomplete if veterans with unmarked graves can’t be found.

“We look to the Great Neck community to honor their ancestors and give as much information as possible so that their ancestor can be recognized for their service to the country,” McCann said.

Specifically, McCann said the post would need a letter from the family outlining the veteran’s service branch and when he or she served.

“[With] all the names that are listed at the memorial in the Village Green, we just don’t know if they were interred at All Saints or if families have moved, but it would be a great tribute to not only to the deceased veterans but their families that they could be remembered for this,” McCann said.

Ultimately, Panetta said that while he has his theories on what happened to the markers, he is not faulting anybody – he just wants to find the veterans so they can be recognized.

“I’m not looking to place blame,” Panetta said.

Anyone with information about veterans should contact the Great Neck Memorial Day Parade Committee at gnparades@gmail.com.

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